Southside Business Improvement District is leading the call for the introduction of direct scheduled flights between China and Birmingham following the success of a chartered service during the summer.
Hainan Airlines launched a twice-weekly service between Beijing and Birmingham on July 3, which carried more than 4,000 Chinese tourists into the city before the service ended on August 28.
Birmingham is becoming increasing popular with Chinese tourists, investors and students and Julia Chance, BID manager in Southside – which incorporates the city’s Chinatown – said a new direct service would have huge benefits for the city and its Chinese community.
“This is the next step for Southside and the wider city,” said Julia. “We are seeing a significant shift in the demographic of Southside with lots of new businesses coming to the area as well Chinese investors who want to be part of the Birmingham success story.
“We are also seeing increasing numbers of Chinese students coming to Birmingham with the majority of them residing in Southside and the lack of direct flights between Birmingham and China means the city is missing a real opportunity.
“The added cost and time of having to fly indirectly to the city means that parents visiting their children are likely to fly into London or Manchester so Birmingham is missing out on valuable visitors and many Chinese tourists are missing out on the Birmingham experience.”
Ann Leung, a director at Southside-based United Travel, said Birmingham was perfectly placed – geographically and demographically – to reap the benefits of a new direct service to China.
She said: “The demand is undoubtedly growing, which has been shown by the success for the second year running of Hainan’s fully booked service this summer.
“Its location in the middle of the country means it is the perfect base for Chinese tourists who can travel to London or Scotland as well as explore Birmingham itself and local attractions like Stratford and Bicester.
“There is also a growing business demand for direct flights to Birmingham and with major investment coming to the city from companies like HSBC which is only going to make the city more attractive.”
In recent years Birmingham and the wider West Midlands has become a prime destination for Chinese students and a spokesman for Birmingham City University said direct flights would be a key component in supporting this trend into the future.
He said: “The provision of a direct flight from China to Birmingham is a vital factor in attracting Chinese students and their relatives to study in and visit the city region. This year we expect some 800 students from China and around 1600 relatives.
“If you counted at all the universities in Birmingham and the surrounding West Midlands region that could easily add up to 20,000 students and 40,000 relatives. Those 60,000 Chinese would prefer to travel directly to Birmingham from Beijing.”
Paul Kehoe, chief executive at Birmingham Airport, believes a permanent scheduled service between China and Birmingham would have a significant impact on the regional economy.
He said: “The extended series of direct charter flights between Birmingham and Beijing this summer, served by Hainan Airlines, has proved to be incredibly popular with inbound and outbound passengers, demonstrating the growing demand for direct flights to China from the Midlands region. These flights have carried almost four thousand Chinese tourists into the UK on package tours and contributed millions to the regional economy.
“Direct flights between the two cities, if developed into a daily service, could deliver an additional £81 million to the UK economy each year, including £62 million per year for the West Midlands.”